As I was walking past a smokey disco (past, not in) here in Waidhofen last night, a pair of youngsters decided to heckle me. This is not uncommom in Austria, as most people can somehow tell that I am not Austrian. Last night, however, I was not accused of being an American, but rather something much worse - a Vorarlberger.
Vorarlberg is Austria's smallest province, or Bundesland, and Austrians are not fond of it.
Vorarlbergers - all 300,000 of them - speak a dialect much closer to Swiss German than Austro-Bavarian German and thus they are the butt of many jokes. My theory is that Austrians are so insecure about their peculiar form of speaking (which is often ridiculed by our lederhosen-ed neighbors to the north) that they are channeling their linguistic self-doubt onto poor, helpless Vorarlberg.
Although I've yet to visit this tiny bubble on the schnitzel of the Austrian Republic, I am sympathetic to their plight, having spent four years in RI - the smallest, pimpliest state in the US. Despite their charms, neither of them really belongs; 80% of Vorarlberg voted against becoming part of Austria in the wake of WWI and Rhode Island barely ratified the Constitution. Perhaps I'm a hopeless fan of the underdog, but I would be proud to be accussed of coming from either the tiny geographic footnote that is Rhode Island or the historical anomaly that is Vorarlberg.